At yesterday’s Reimagine Leadership conference, the complexity researcher Dave Snowden threw in a remark which resonated with us:
A leader is a catalyst at most.
The ecosystem must be what we tend to first. And then we need to make sure that leaders are connected to that ecosystem.
Why? Because a leader needs all the different perspectives within an ecosystem to swiftly respond to complex problems, for instance Covid 19’s impact on your organisation.
Before touching on how to tend to the ecosystem, I want to add two crucial behaviours which you as a leader need in order to be able to help your followership thrive in times of change and ambiguity.
A leader needs the power of empathy and empowerment.
Jennifer Garner, one of our heroes and one of the world’s most prominent adult development coaches and teachers, noted the importance of leaders addressing the sense of overwhelm that can arise in uncertain times by naming and normalising it.
Overwhelm and shut down are normal responses in times of change.
And leadership happens when you can help people untangle what happens in their nervous systems as a response to steep learning and change. This enables them to calm down, pull themselves out of it, and walk the change with you.
All change is a learning journey.
Sonja Blignaut added this dimension which makes a leader future proof: holding space for learning. This comes with a key challenge.
How long can we manage to stay in the ambiguity of the learning space together?
It is uncomfortable there, but we need to stay in the ambiguity for a while to see what’s on the horizon – to discover what is actually emerging.
As a leader, you need to help everyone stay there with you.
These are non-traditional views of what it is to be a leader. Being a catalyst is a good metaphor for that.
Let’s come back to how you can be a catalyst.
Snowden suggests a simple approach to get multiple perspectives on a problem in real time.
You activate your entire ecosystem by creating „entangled trios“ of all perspectives that matter to the problem you face. You design a process and create a context for the interactions of these trios. Then you watch what emerges in-between them all.
A design of such triangles in the context of a Covid 19 policy response could be:
A teacher – a pupil – a parent
A health officer – a teacher – a police officer
A parent – a police officer – a social worker
You get the gist.
You choose as many roles for as many entangled trios as necessary to get the full range of perspectives on your specific problem. Then you bring together what emerged in the conversations on your given problem.
This nuanced approach allows for a contextualised response and incorporates often unheard, but insightful, perspectives.
And what you have here is effectively a distributed decision making process. A leader is still required – not to decide, but to coordinate a centralised response.
Thus, a leader’s role shifts from being the expert knower of the way forward to the enabler and facilitator of holistic solutions.
What’s emerging for you as a leader is the importance of tending to the ecosystem around you which has the answers that you can’t have, because you only have one lonely perspective – your own. The solutions to our complex problems lie not in any one perspective, but between many different viewpoints.
Complexity would not be difficult to deal with if one perspective alone could reveal the solution.
It takes courage to change your leadership role from having to know everything to helping people figure it out together. But it is the transformation you need to make as a leader to deal with the increasing complexity of our world.